‘Beyond the Interface’ deconstructs the human-machine matrix (Wired UK)
Daniel Culpin


The relentless assault of technology on the rest of our lives is the subject of a new exhibition and series of events, Beyond the Interface — London, opening at the Furtherfield Gallery on 25 April.

The show is a “remixed” extension of an exhibition shown at the International Symposium on Mixed and Augmented Reality 2014 (ISMAR) in Munich. Curated by Furtherfield and mixed reality media artist Julian Stadon, it brings together a number of leading contemporary artists to explore how technology disrupts, enhances and alters the way we live.

On the approach to the gallery, in the McKenzie Pavilion in the heart of Finsbury Park, you’re immediately immersed by the transformation of the walls into lush, teeming images of water lilies; a hacked Monet for the 21st century. Giverny Remediated, by US-based artist Nathaniel Stern, is part of his Compressionism series. Defined by shifting, interactive prints, and inspired by classic Impressionism, the images were captured with uniquely twenty-first century methods — Stern strapped a scanner to his body to capture the blooms.

“I might scan in straight, long lines across tables, tie the scanner around my neck and swing over flowers, do pogo-like gestures over bricks, or just follow the wind over water lilies in a pond,” Stern writes on his website. “The dynamism between my body, technology and the landscape is transformed into beautiful and quirky renderings, which are then produced as archival art objects.”

Water and fluidity as a metaphor for data is a central theme of Stern’s work. As part of Beyond the Interface — London, Stern has also been commissioned to create a brand new installation, Rippling Images of Finsbury Park, a public artwork based in the park’s boating lake. Visitors will be able to download the artworks by public USB installed in the gallery’s walls, using anonymous file-sharing network Dead Drops.

Also in the show, Zach Blas’ Facial Weaponization Suite is an uncanny, disturbing protest against the dehumanising effects of biometric facial technology. The New York-based artist creates “collective masks” from facial data collected by participants in community workshops. These masks — distorted, amorphous blobs, almost resembling chewing gum — erase the recognisable features of the human face, ensuring wearers are unable to be detected by biometric facial scanners. Fusing a cry against government over-surveillance with a sympathy for those frequently pushed to the social margins, Blas’ work is provocative and politically charged.

Also on show is Jennifer Chan’s Grey Matter. The Hong Kong-raised, Chicago-based artist employs videos, gifs and webpages to cast a wry, quizzical look at representations of gender and in modern media culture. In the five-minute video, Chan adopts the persona of a teenage internet user creating her own confessional online diary, using social media — sharing, posting, following — to confront issues of privacy, voyeurism and online identity.

Beyond the Interface — London runs at the Furtherfield Gallery until 21 June, 2015

See original post on WIRED UK

TEDx talk

“Nathaniel Stern is an awkward artist, teacher and writer, who likes awkward art, students and writing. Stern’s talk, Ecological Aesthetics, discusses tweets in space, scans at the bottom of the sea, interactive installations, and art in virtual worlds – all work about the complex relationships between humans, nature, and politics.”

tedx uwmilwaukee

What is TEDx?

“Imagine a day filled with brilliant speakers, thought-provoking video and mind-blowing conversation. By organizing a TEDx event, you can create a unique gathering in your community that will unleash new ideas, inspire and inform…. A TEDx event is a local gathering where live TED-like talks and videos previously recorded at TED conferences are shared with the community.” – from the TED web site




This Guy Takes Awesome Underwater Photos With a Desktop Scanner
Jason Kehe


Nathaniel Stern is diving off the coast of Florida, scanning the gorgeous seascape before him—literally. He’s got a desktop scanner strapped to his back, uploading images to an on-board Windows tablet. A few jellyfish, a bit of coral, the expanse of blue—he scans it all. He isn’t capturing these images for science or study, but for gallery walls.

Stern is a digital artist, and for the past 10 years, this has been his medium. His latest show, Rippling Images, opens today at the Tory Folliard Gallery in Milwaukee (it premiered at South Africa’s Turbine Art Fair in July). Its 18 “underwater performative prints” are distorted swashes of vibrant color—what you’d expect if you scanned, say, a school of fish—but beautiful just the same.

“For me,” Stern says, “the way time and space are folded into each image—as vertical slashes or angled swooshes of movement and stasis—are like potent mappings of land and sea, body and technology, together.”

The series, which the artist calls “Compressionism,” began in 2005 in South Africa, where Stern was living at the time. He’d been experimenting with various kinds of interactive art, and galleries started seeking his work. He had no idea what to do, so he simply showed up at a gallery with his “mobile studio”: laptop, video camera, scanner, and hard drive. Then he scanned every object he could find, from windows and walls to doors and benches. He hung each print alongside to its subject—a scan of a window next to the window, for example—and hoped people would get it.

“I thought this would be an intervention in how we understand space and tech,” he says. “People went gaga for it.”

One of Stern’s favorite artists, William Kentridge, attended the show, and said Stern’s prints reminded him of Japanese woodcuts like Hokusai’s classic The Great Wave Off Kanagawa. “You should go out and scan the landscape,” Kentridge told the artist.

For the next decade, he did just that.


Making His Own Water Lilies

His favorite work—prior to Rippling Images, of course—was Giverny of the Midwest, his techy homage to Monet’s Water Lilies. (Stern is a self-described fan of the impressionist.) To create it, Stern brought a laptop, five scanners and battery packs, and two student assistants to South Bend, Indiana, to spend three days scanning a lily pond. The water claimed two scanners and his phone, but they wound up with 130 scans that Stern then spent two years editing into an installation composed of 93 prints. Laid out in a Mondrian-like arrangement, the piece covers more than 250 square feet and is nearly identical in size to Monet’s masterpiece. Giverny of the Midwest was shown in South Africa in 2011, but Stern’s continued to work on it since, and it will have a US debut at the Museum of Wisconsin Art in April next year.

After he’d waded through water for Giverny, Stern decided it was time to go under it. His brother-in-law Emyano Mazzola, an Italian scuba instructor (and Stern’s occasional photographer), suggested scanning a coral reef. He sought a grant from University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, where he teaches. It loved the idea, so he became a certified diver and went to the Florida Keys.

Though he’s been using rigs of various sorts over the years, going underwater posed a particular challenge. He designed 10 rigs, built five, and brought three. One consisted of a FlipPal portable scanner and a DryCase for the tablet. But the “most fun” rig, Stern says, was made entirely of Plexiglas. Vacuum-sealed with a bike valve, it kept his Windows tablet dry.

To a point. The rig started leaking at 30 feet (it was supposed to go to 60), and some of the images included scratches and bubbles. “I love this,” Stern says. “The work is meant to frame and amplify the forces of land and sea, show how they affect movements and actions and performances. None of this technology ever did precisely what I wanted or intended, and you can see that in every image. It’s beautiful.”


Scanning On

That’s one reason Stern wants to keep creating this kind of art—an unusual move in an era when digital artists are expected to constantly grow, adapt, iterate, change. “To stick with one image-making process for 10 years—and it’s easily going to be another 20—is not something most digital artists do,” says Stern, who’s planning an ice dive for his project. “The process and what comes out of it are so rich and full of wonder.”

Don’t believe him? If you meet him on the street, Stern might even give you a try: He loves watching people attempt to scan their world for the first time. “They want to move quickly,” Stern says. “But the images don’t capture anything. Then they start to slow down. And instead of just moving, they’re moving with, or moving around. It’s pretty magical to watch people dance with the landscape.”

“You can hear,” he adds, “that I’m a hopeless romantic.”

For Rippling Images, I worked with a team to produce a marine-rated, desktop scanner-based imaging rig, and performed a new series of digital artworks while scuba diving on a live coral reef off the coast of Key Largo in Florida.

Length, 2m40s

download Rippling Images as mp4 QuickTime

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Read the original on WIRED.com

MKE Journal Sentinel

Visual Arts Splash Fall Season with Color: Must-see exhibits, projects are on the calendar
This article by Mary-Louise Schumacher appeared in both the online and print editions of the MJS


With a number of shows that look at the landscape through a 21st-century lens — whether Nathaniel Stern’s underwater impressions, Terese Agnew’s contemplation of layered epochs, Pegi Christiansen’s walks through a sculpture garden or John Shimon and Julie Lindemann looking at the state of Wisconsin as a medium of sorts — the coming months promise many ways to consider the world.

Here are some visual art exhibits and projects not to miss in the coming months, including several that will be open for Gallery Night & Day, the citywide art crawl this Friday evening and Saturday.

Nathaniel Stern

Tory Folliard Gallery, 233 N. Milwaukee St.

This is pretty much Nathaniel Stern’s year. While he’s shown some of his collaborative works in Milwaukee for some years, he has not shown the solo work he is most known for internationally. For this work, he straps a scanner, laptop and custom battery pack to his body and “performs into existence” his strange and beautiful artworks. What’s more he does this in and under water with a special rig made at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. There are moments of intense clarity that surface from the visual skips and drags. These 21st-century versions of Impressionism debut Friday at the Tory Folliard Gallery. Stern will speak at 1 p.m. Saturday. He also will have work exhibited at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design, 273 E. Erie St., as part of “Vital Technology,” starting Friday and at the Museum of Wisconsin Art starting April 11.

Read the rest of this article in the online or print editions of the MJS

Popular Mechanics

These Stunning Underwater Photos Were Taken With a Desktop Scanner
Tim Newcomb

Stern traverses the land- or seascape with a desktop scanner, computing device + custom-made battery pack, + performs prints into existence.

Rippling Images is a fitting name for Nathaniel Stern’s latest works of art, and in more ways than one. The collection shows off 18 prints captured under the rippling water of a live coral reef near Kay Largo, Fla., and he made those images using a device known for rippling: a desktop scanner.

Stern has been known for more than a decade for his method of scanning landscapes. The inspiration for this aqueous art came when his brother-in-law suggested he take the idea under the sea. Stern says he designed 10 different subaqueous scanner systems, built five to completion, and took three with him underwater. The scanners used custom electronics, plus melted and welded Plexiglas, metal, towels, and even some duct tape to operate in the ocean.

“They leaked, they broke, and they captured things I never wanted and never intended,” he says. But that’s what you get with experimental work.

For Rippling Images, I worked with a team to produce a marine-rated, desktop scanner-based imaging rig, and performed a new series of digital artworks while scuba diving on a live coral reef off the coast of Key Largo in Florida.

Length, 2m40s

download Rippling Images as mp4 QuickTime

Play Video
Click To Play

Using custom-made rigs and battery packs, Stern strapped the devices to his back or held them out in front as he swam to capture the beauty and color of the reef and the marine life that frolics nearby.

“My goal was an exhibition where site and technology—their limitations, possibilities, and potentials—take great agency in the constitution and construction of printed forms,” he writes on his website. “I provoke thinking and feeling and movement that never would have came to me had I not worked beyond the scope of what was possible.”

Stern’s images debuted during a July art fair in Johannesburg, South Africa. They now lead a solo Rippling Images show that will run from Oct. 17 through Nov. 15 in the Tory Folliard Gallery in Milwaukee, Wisc.—Stern’s hometown. A scan through the 18 prints can toss a ripple into what you thought possible from a nearly antiquated piece of electronics.





See the original article on Popular Mechanics.

MKE Journal Sentinel

Artist Nathaniel Stern scans a subaqueous terrain
This article by Mary-Louise Schumacher appeared in both the online and print editions of the MJS


If memory serves, the first time I laid eyes on Nathaniel Stern, it was in a Facebook profile picture years ago. He was standing up to his chest in a lily pond, a straw hat tipped over his brow and sweeping what looked like a desktop scanner over the surface of the water. I remember thinking, “Who is this modern-day Claude Monet pondering perception in new ways?”

Since then, I’ve had the chance to get to know Stern, who is a contributor to Art City, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s online journal about art, architecture, design and the urban landscape. And while I’ve seen many of his installations, prints and videos here in Milwaukee, I’ve not had the chance to see some of his highly unusual scanner work, except in online reproductions and a few small prints.

Though they’ve been exhibited elsewhere in the world, including South Africa, they’ll be exhibited here for the first time at the Tory Folliard Gallery in October. For his more recent scanner pieces, Stern straps on the scanner, laptop and custom battery pack and “performs images into existence.” Lately, this process has taken Stern beneath the water’s surface to subaqueous terrain, too.

Truth be told, by today’s standards, scanners are pretty quaint technology, not the kinds of machines one typically dunks in the drink. Stern not only took months of diving lessons to be able to do this work, he spent countless hours with a team at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee designing a special rig for his equipment, which leaked horribly in the first several attempts.

Nathaniel Stern has a desktop scanner strapped to his body while scuba diving to create his latest series of art images.

The resulting images, some made on a coral reef off the coast of Key Largo in Florida, are beautiful and strange. I can’t wait to see them on the gallery wall. I’m reminded of the way the mind perceives, less directly than we might imagine, filling in pieces of what we see not unlike the way computers fill in pixels based on sophisticated, technology-driven guesses. There are moments of intense clarity that surface from the visual skips and drags. They are so otherly, but the images will also be familiar to anyone used to the digital hiccups of the 21st century.

As a writer at Gizmodo asked, maybe this is how fish see the world.

“The resulting artworks are full of care, thought, and wonder,” states the website for the Tory Folliard Gallery, 233 N. Milwaukee St. The show opens Oct. 17.

Mary Louise Schumacher is the Journal Sentinel’s art and architecture critic. Follow her coverage at Art City: www.jsonline.com/artcity.

See the original article by Mary-Louise Schumacher online or in print.



After much trial and even more error, artist Nathaniel Stern was finally able to create an underwater casing for a flatbed scanner. With the help of a team, Stern was able to develop custom software and hardware that he would use with his underwater scanner while scuba diving off the coast of Key Largo, Florida in a live coral reef. The resulting images are bold abstractions of the coral that Stern captured with his scanner and mirrors the ripples of water in the way the scanner creates each composition.

text by Canbra Hodsdon

Metallic print (2014); 500 x 1000 mm


Metallic print (2014); 500 x 1000 mm


metallic print (2014); 500 x 1000 mm


metallic print (2014); 300 x 500 mm


metallic print (2014); 300 x 500 mm


metallic print (2014); 300 x 500 mm


metallic print (2014); 300 x 500 mm


metallic print (2014); 300 x 500 mm


metallic print (2014); 300 x 500 mm


metallic print (2014); 210 x 305 mm


metallic print (2014); 210 x 305 mm


metallic print (2014); 210 x 305 mm


metallic print (2014); 210 x 305 mm


metallic print (2014); 210 x 305 mm


metallic print (2014); 210 x 305 mm


metallic print (2014); 130 x 200 mm


metallic print (2014); 130 x 200 mm


metallic print (2014); 130 x 200 mm



De Arte

Interactive art and embodiment: The implicit body as performance
Reviewed by Rob Myers for De Arte
Nathaniel Stern. Interactive art and embodiment: The implicit body as performance. 2013. Canterbury: Glyphi Limited. £ 18.99.

This review is copyrighted and available from Sabinet, though some highlights follow:

In Interactive art and embodiment, artist and art theorist Nathaniel Stern develops and applies a rigorous set of frameworks for reconsidering the concepts of interactive multimedia, performance, and the creation of bodily meaning and experience. Stern begins by building a lineage for his novel understanding of these ideas. He then develops a framework for the critical evaluation of interactive art based on this understanding, and applies it to some exemplary artworks. Finally he applies the parts of this framework that are relevant for non-interactive multimedia art to some well-known examples of that genre in order to show their further applicability.

“The book as a whole continues this concern both with bodily experience through interactive art and with grounding discourse in examples of art and criticism.”

“By collapsing and making strange what we think we know both intuitively and critically about our bodies as ‘performed and emerging emergence’, Stern lays the concept of the body open to productive re-thinking.”

“Interactive art, Stern argues, can interrupt and intervene in the performance of bodily relationality. ‘Moving- thinking-feeling’ is both limited by and amplified by art, as it is by games or drama.”

“Stern’s use of examples – both familiar and unfamiliar – illustrates the strength of the implicit body framework and makes it useful both to critics and to artists who wish to better understand what makes successful interactive art.”

“The implicit body framework concentrates on artistic enquiry and process rather than the ontology of such a piece, and on the experience of it as interaction and interactivity, beyond merely describing its technological construction or mechanical appearance. Doing so allows interactive art to stand or fall on its merits as interactive art, and highlights the value of a work…”

“Interactive art and embodiment makes a considerable contribution to the state of criticism andtheory of interactive art. It is useful for critics, theorists and artists who wish to further their understanding of interactive art and serves as an introduction to its worth for those unfamiliar with or unconvinced by it.”

Read the entire review in De Arte

Art Journal

Beyond Technology and Representation: What Can Interactive Art Do?
Nathaniel Stern. Interactive Art and Embodiment: The Implicit Body as Performance. Canterbury, UK: Gylphi, 2013. 291 pp., 41 color ills. $29.99 paper
Troy Rhoades, for CAA’s Art Journal, Spring 2014
Download Art Journal’s PDF spread of  this article from Taylor and Francis

Forget technology.
Forget representation.
Remember the body.
Re-member: Embody again (6).

In Interactive Art and Embodiment: The Implicit Body as Performance, Nathaniel Stern would like us to remember the body’s potential for moving, thinking, and feeling in relation to digital interactive artworks. He wants this triumvirate of bodily activities – what he defines as embodiment – to be placed in the foreground of thought when we discuss interactive art. It is his contention that technology and representational content have been the focal points of interactive art for too long, and it is time for a paradigm shift. “We must get away from concentrating only on the signs and images on the screen or the interface, away from privileging the technology and what it affords. We must engage with the quality and styles of movement that are rehearsed with interactive art” (15–16). Stern sees the need to stop explaining what interactive art is as a technological object or a generator of signs. He asserts instead that our attention should be placed on what interactive art does as it shapes our potential for embodiment, that is, our ability to move-think-feel with the work. It is important to note that Stern is not completely rejecting technological and representational approaches to interactive art and solely focusing on embodiment. Rather, he wants us to notice that there is a glaring absence of embodiment in many of the present methods used to analyze this type of work. This book is his attempt to address the long-overdue need to reevaluate this field of art. He reveals that we have always been moving-thinking-feeling with interactive art.

Stern begins his reassessment of interactive art by clearly defining his approach to this work. First, he declares that he will not value or define the potential of any individual artwork categorically: “I begin and end with singular works in the gallery space, and am interested in creating a discrete critical framework for encountering interactive art” (5). Stern then defines the interactive artwork as digital and electronic art that uses “various forms of sensors or cameras for input; computers, microcontrollers, simple electronic circuits, or other digital or analogical terminals for processing; and any form of sensory output – audiovisual, tactile, olfactory, mechanical, or otherwise; where all are placed together in a system that responds to the embodied participation of viewers, either in real-time, and/or over lengths of time” (5–6). From here Stern states that his theoretical approach is aligned with process philosophy and affect theory, primarily based on the work of the philosopher Brian Massumi, in order to “explore interactive art’s potential, outside of signification alone” (9).1 By approaching interactive art from an affective and processual approach, Stern associates himself with other contemporary new media thinkers (some of whom he cites) such as Anna Munster, Steve Goodman, and Stamatia [Portanova].2

With his approach and theoretical foundation clearly stated, Stern delineates in the first two chapters how recent research practices in interactive art, which have focused on technology and representation, connect and diverge from his understanding of embodiment as the body’s potential for moving-thinking-feeling. In the first chapter Stern tackles the notion that digital technology is somehow incorporeal, as espoused by thinkers such as Friedrich Kittler and David Rodowick.3 He argues against the notion that data, computational processes, and networks do not have any physical presence or materiality. For Stern all of these technologies and digital processes take on some physical form, on hard drives, computer chips, or fiber-optic cables: “Neither bodies nor information can exist without form and embodiment, and intelligence encompasses far more than informational processing” (33). Stern wants us to be aware not only of the corporeal aspects of digital and electronic technology that interactive art uses but also how we are affected and effected when participating in these technologies. He sees a real challenge in keeping “the participant’s attention on the quality of their own movements, rather than the response of the machine” (45). In Stern’s view, we need to become more attuned to the moving-thinking-feeling experience we have with interactive art, rather than focusing on the technology that drives the work.

In the second chapter Stern challenges recent thought concerning the body and representation in interactive art. He asks that we pay attention to the body as “more than its signs and significations, more than what we see or look at, more than skin, flesh, and bone” (54–55). According to Stern, for a body to be understood as a series of signs or an object, it needs to be static or “pre-formed,” like the many static points of Zeno’s famous arrow. A body becomes “explicit,” lacking any potential to experience embodiment. For a body to move-think-feel, Stern contends, it must be seen as a continuously changing entity that “situates embodiment as always per-formed: emergent and relational” (67). A body that experiences the ongoing activity of embodiment during an encounter with interactive art is, for Stern, an “implicit body” as performance.

After critiquing technological and language-based approaches to interactive art, Stern outlines a potentially paradigm-shifting method for understanding interactive art and embodiment through what he calls the “implicit body framework.” This framework comprises four areas of examination: “artistic inquiry and process; artwork description; inter-activity; and, relationality” (91). The first area looks at the artwork from the artist’s perspective, focusing on his or her approach to the work and the techniques chosen for its production. The second area gives us a detailed description of the artwork: how it looks, sounds, and plays. For Stern, these first two areas of examination are standard in most investigations of interactive art. They also represent the point at which most inquiries stop. As he states, “most visually-, technically-, and linguistically-based writing on interactive art explains that a given piece is interactive, and how it is interactive, but not how we inter-act” (91, emphasis in orig.).

Stern sees the third and fourth areas of examination – interactivity and relationality – as the missing elements in discussions of interactive art. The two areas focus on the potential for an awareness of embodiment to emerge in the viewer-artwork encounter; they foreground our capacity to move-think-feel our potential for change when we experience interactive art. The third area specifically examines the interaction itself, that is, how viewers and artworks connect at the level of embodiment. It focuses on the emergent affects, feelings, and movements generated in the midst of the viewer-artwork encounter. The final area of examination focuses on the relations that emerge in our encounter with interactive art and how these “relationships intervene in our transformation with the world around us” (97). Stern wants us to become aware of the extensive potential for relations to alter and affect our ability to move, think, and feel with regard to an interactive artwork.

In the next three chapters Stern presents a series of case studies using his implicit body framework, approaching several interactive artworks under three different thematics: body-language, social-anatomies, and flesh-space. For Stern these thematics reveal various emergent relations between embodiment and some other sensible concept, such as “language, society, architecture, other matter, forces, and matters” (97–98). The body-language chapter examines the work of Simon Penny and Camille Utterback and its parallels with Jean-Luc Nancy’s notion of “excription,” looking specifically at body and language as “mutually immanent” (104). The social-anatomies chapter investigates Nick Crossley’s idea of “intercorporeality” – the capacity for the body and society to reciprocally produce each other – through the work of the Millefiore Effect, Mathieu Briand, and Scott Snibbe. The third thematic chapter, on flesh-space, approaches the interactive work of David [Rokeby], Rafael Lezano-Hemmer, and Norah Zuniga Shaw through the thought of José Gil and Erin Manning, investigating the ability of these artworks to make viewers aware of the ways in which “bodies and space are made of their relations” (176). These three chapters demonstrate Stern’s implicit body framework as rigorous yet flexible when applied to the analysis of interactive art.

In the penultimate chapter Stern takes his implicit body framework further, demonstrating that it can be used beyond the limits of interactive art. He investigates a large cross-section of new-media works by artists such as Erwin Driessens and Maria Verstappen, Brandon Labelle, and John F. Simon, Jr., as well as his own work, which he calls “potentialized art.” For Stern all of these works have the capacity to “amplify action, affect, embodiment, performativity, transformation, and/or materiality” (206). Potentialized art enables us to become aware of our ability to move-think-feel with a work in the midst of our mutual encounter. We can experience the potential for embodiment as we perform with these artworks. We can become aware of our ability to move-think-feel.


The most rewarding and riskiest chapter of Stern’s book is saved for the end. “In Production (A Narrative Inquiry on Interactive Art)” is a case study of Stern’s own art and writing practices from 2000 to the present. What makes this chapter such a rewarding and refreshing read is that it is written in an unconventional autobiographical style that is also academically rigorous, a style Stern calls an “autoethnographic experiment” (254). This experiment blends conversations, personal narrative, and several analyses of his interactive artworks using his implicit body framework in order to “amplify” and “potentialize” the reading experience (259). Stern consolidates everything he has advocated about the relationship between embodiment and interactive art into a personal story about himself and his work, effectively exposing us to an example of the experience of moving-thinking-feeling that we have been reading about throughout the book.

Stern’s experimental approach to writing is also one of this chapter’s many risks. There is the possibility that more traditional readers of art theory and history may find such a self-referential and unconventionally written account off-putting, even jarring. However, Stern’s storytelling ability is strong and will likely win over even the most curmudgeonly reader. Another risk this chapter takes is the form in which it has been published. The book surprisingly ends by giving us only the introductory section of this concluding chapter. We are invited to go online to view or download the remaining sections (253, 259).4 We are allowed just a taste of this chapter and then must shift our attention from the written page to the written screen. The risk here is that readers may be lost in this transition from the book to the Internet, leaving some of Stern’s best writing unread.

The book is part of the Arts Future Book initiative, a research project and academic book series investigating the future of academic publishing in the arts, led by Charlotte Frost. Placing this final chapter online appears to be part of the series’ mandate to exploit “recent technological advances in publishing” (xxi). Readers who go online and read the complete text of “In Production” will find the possibility to interact with others, in the ability to make comments at every paragraph. This gives readers a platform to share thoughts about some of their favorite (or less agreeable) passages. The ability to comment is an appealing feature, but publishing this chapter online has the potential to take away some of its affective impact. Moreover, it feels like an unnecessary use of digital technology, one that does not appear to follow the spirit of the book, as the online publication breaks a sense of continuity and makes it more difficult to experience moving-thinking-feeling in the work itself. As Stern states, “Embodiment only is through its ongoingness and continuity” (57, emphasis in orig.). If this chapter – which encapsulates everything Stern advocates with regard to interactive and potentialized art – were printed in its entirety at the end of the book, readers would have a better opportunity to experience the embodied potential the book commands. Despite these misgivings, everyone who reads Stern’s book (and those who are interested in reading it) should visit the website and discover the complete text of this wonderful final chapter.

It will be interesting to see how those behind the Arts Future Book series continue to explore the potential that digital and online media offers to expand the form of the book. Interactive Art and Embodiment is the first from this series, making it the first to experiment with the hybrid approach to publishing. I hope the editors will embrace Stern’s notion of embodiment and ensure that digital incarnations of future titles emerge from the potential activated within the texts themselves.

By asking us to engage with interactive art at the level of potential for movement, thinking, and feeling, Stern alters the idea of what inquiry can be, changing it from an analysis of something static into a dynamic event. The act of examination becomes as much a performance as the interactive art it investigates. Through the use of Stern’s implicit body framework, artworks become more than mere descriptions placed within a historical context. Through his writing, artworks become alive in the reading, giving us a sense of how the embodied interactions and emergent relations feel as they are encountered.

1. Throughout the book, Stern focuses on three of Massumi’s texts: Brian Massumi, Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002); “The Thinking-Feeling of What Happens: An Interview with Brian Massumi,” in Interact or Die: There Is Drama in the Network, ed. Joke Brouwer and Arjen Mulder (Rotterdam: V2 Pub./NAi, 2007), 70–91; and Semblance and Event: Activist Philosophy and the Occurent Arts (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011)

2. See Anna Munster, Materializing New Media: Embodiment in Information Aesthetics (Hanover, NH: Dartmouth College Press, 2006); Steve Goodman, Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect, and the Ecology of Fear (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009); and Stamatia Portanova, Moving without a Body: Digital Philosophy and Choreographic Thoughts (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013).

3. See Friedrich Kittler, Gramophone, Film, Typewriter (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999); and David N. Rodowick, Reading the Figural, or, Philosophy after the New Media (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001).

4. The concluding chapter in its entirety is at http://stern.networkedbook.org, as of February 11, 2014.

Download the Journal’s PDF spread of  this article from Taylor and Francis


Homemade undersea scanner finds strange new world
Nathaniel Stern dives beneath the sea armed with DIY photography rigs toggled from custom electronics. The artist’s results? Bizarre and beautiful.
by Leslie Katz for CNET

Nathaniel Stern dives beneath the sea armed with DIY photography rigs toggled from custom electronics. The artist's results? Bizarre and beautiful.
This rig has a bicycle valve so Stern can vacuum-seal it closed when he goes underwater. He got it down to 30 feet before experiencing leaks.

It’s easy to find a good compact underwater camera, but artist Nathaniel Stern opted to go a different route for his deep-sea imaging. Really different. He strapped on homemade rigs built from custom electronics and software, melted and welded plexiglass, plastic bags, duct tape, and other bits and bobs and proceeded to dive into the subaqueous world.

The resulting odd and beautiful renderings make up “Rippling Images,” a new series of fluid and often-abstract images of flora and fauna created as Stern and his marine-rated contraptions dove along a live coral reef off the coast of Key Largo in Florida. Because Stern wears the gizmos, his movements help compose the shots, some of which would look more at home hanging in the Museum of Modern Art than among other, more typical undersea photographs.

As he puts it, “I perform images into existence.”

Stern gets up close with a three-eyed undersea creature, or maybe that’s just the photographic effect.

“My movements underwater, my relations to life and gravity, what I see and cannot see, fish and plants, breathing and fluidity, all affect and are affected as these images [are] being made,” Stern, a professor of art and design at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Peck School of the Arts, says on the project’s website.

Nathaniel Stern dives beneath the sea armed with DIY photography rigs toggled from custom electronics. The artist's results? Bizarre and beautiful.
Nathaniel Stern dives beneath the sea armed with DIY photography rigs toggled from custom electronics. The artist’s results? Bizarre and beautiful.

The images are an outgrowth of Stern’s ongoing “Compressionism” series, in which he hitches a flat-bed desktop scanner, computing device, and custom battery pack to his body and moves through the terrestrial world doing things like swinging over flowers or jumping over bricks to capture images of objects and spaces. When he captures a shot, every part of the image is broken up into moments of time because of how the scanner beam moves across the surface of the scanner and how Stern maneuvers the entire custom rig across the landscape.

For the aqueous version of his art, Stern spent three months getting certified to scuba dive. He and his team designed 10 underwater systems, and built 5 of them to completion. He toted 3 of these hacked-together getups under the sea.

“They leaked, they broke, they scanned scratches on the surface of the boxes, they reflected, they captured things that I never wanted and never intended,” Stern reports, “and that is precisely the nature of experimental work.”

Stern, whose art often focuses on how people engage with and experience the world, previously afforded us Earth-bound social-media addicts the chance to tweet to aliens.

“Rippling Images” will be on display at the Turbine Art Fair in Johannesburg from July 17 to 20, and as a solo show at the Tory Folliard Gallery in Milwaukee in October. For a deeper dive (so to speak) into the project, watch this video.

“Flower,” a digital print on metallic paper. “The colors and hairs and mossy-like textures came out stronger than I ever could have imagined, in formation, soft and aqueous,” Stern told Crave of his technique.

“Metallic,” one of the “Rippling Images” pieces created with one of Stern’s undersea rigs.

Some of the works from the series look like they’d be at home at a modern-art museum.

Read the original article on  CNET


These Underwater Photos Were Taken By a Desktop Scanner
Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan for Gizmodo


The desktop scanner is a wonderful thing, but rugged it ain’t. Yet Nathaniel Stern didn’t let that stop him: The Wisconsin-based artist, who is known for his experimental camera designs, created a waterproof version of an off-the-shelf scanner that captured a series of incredible images of sea life.

“Everything leaked, everything broke, nothing did what I wanted or expected,” Stern writes on his website about the projectRippling Images, for which he took months of diving courses to become certified to complete it. But the finished product was certainly worth it—here’s how Stern carried it out:

For Rippling Images, I worked with a team to produce a marine-rated scanner rig, including custom hard- and software, and performed a new series of digital works while scuba diving on a live coral reef off the coast of Key Largo in Florida. My goal was an exhibition where where site and technology – their limitations, possibilities and potentials – take greater agency in the constitution and construction of printed forms. My movements underwater, my relations to life and gravity, what I see and cannot see, fish and plants, breathing and fluidity, all affect and are affected in and as these images, being made.

You can check out the complete batch of images on Stern’s website. They’re both bizarre and beautiful, unlike any photos of the marine world I’ve ever seen. It almost feels as though we’re experiencing how fish see the world. [PetaPixel]

See the original post on Gizmodo

Boing Boing

Artistic scanner-photos taken on a coral-reef
Cory Doctorow for Boing Boing

Nathaniel Stern straps modified document scanners to his body and then walks around, producing beautiful, glitched out art-images. Now he’s taken his scanners to the bottom of the ocean.


For the last decade or so, I’ve been making fine art prints by strapping a desktop scanner, custom battery pack, and computing devices to my body, then traversing the landscape to produce abstract but detailed slit scan imagery… The reasons are threefold: very high resolution; proximity – I’m a part of the landscape I’m capturing, rather than distanced from it (no added lens); and the potency of multiple adjacent times and spaces viewed on a 2D plane.

For the latest in the series, I produced several marine-rated, scuba scanning rigs – metal, plastic and/or polycarbonate, with various forms of gaskets, vacuum seals, and hall effect (magnetically-triggered) buttons to create the scans.

The complete body of work, 18 prints, premiere at the Turbine Art Fair in Johannesburg next week (July 17 – 20). The show comes to Milwaukee WI, where I now live, in October.

Rippling Images

See it on Boing Boing


Experimental Underwater Scanner Makes for Beautiful Happy Accidents
Gannon Burgett for PetaPixel

If you enjoy strange and experimental photography, Nathaniel Stern‘s work should delight you.

For the past ten years, Stern has been creating experimental image-capturing devices using a conglomeration of hacked-together desktop scanners, battery packs and other various computer components. Once created, he straps these machines to his body and takes them from location to location capturing images unlike any other camera out there.


In his latest series, Rippling Images, Stern decided to take his images one step further by venturing to take these experimental camera creations underwater. It didn’t come easy though.

Stern spent months getting certified for a number of open-water diving licenses. And when he wasn’t doing that, he was helping his team piece together what would eventually become the five final models of the device he would be taking underwater.

Made out of everything from welded metal to magnetically-triggered buttons, the devices didn’t actually capture what Stern was hoping for at all. But what they capture, Stern still found beautiful… if not more beautiful than his usual work.

The scratched surfaces of the plastic showed up, unplanned reflections made several appearances, and the images were just overall more experimental than he could’ve ever expected:










Experiment might as well be Stern’s middle name though, so he took everything in stride and used it as a learning experience, sharing his thoughts in a video that we’ve embedded at the top.

It comes in just shy of three minutes, so give it a quick watch to see Stern and his unusual devices at work, and then head over to his website to see more of his work.

Read the article on PetaPixel

Neural Magazine

Nathaniel Stern – Interactive Art and Embodiment: The Implicit Body as Performance

New book! 'Interactive Art and Embodiment: The Implicit Body as Performance' underscores the stakes for interactive and digital art

GYLPHI LIMITED, ISBN-13: 978-1780240091, ENGLISH, 304 PAGES, 2013, USA

Man/machine interfaces have involved the body in progressively more sophisticated ways, from the mechanical finger pressure on a keyboard to the intellectual challenge of voice-recognition-based software assistants. Media art has interpreted interfaces dynamically, abstracting the interaction and playing with its modalities, symbols and meanings. Stern analyses almost forty different artworks to augment his theory: “interactive art suspends and amplifies the ways we experience embodiment – as per-formed, relational, and emergent”. The text investigates “how we interact” and the role of the body in the interaction process is here exploded and carefully delineated. Many of the connotations that the body assumes in artworks – being perceived as a structure, a tool, a territory or an imagined space – are analysed as performative and symbolic instances. One of the qualities of this book is that it provides extensive references on the topic, while remaining very focused. The artworks are carefully described in their mechanisms and their performative dimensions are acknowledged separately, representing an annotated anthology in itself. There’s also a “digital companion” chapter (called “In Production”, partially printed and freely available online, meant to be updated and expanded at will), which has been aggregated to the book as its dynamic (in a way even performative) extension. This book is very helpful for understanding our physical relationship with the digital and how to properly relate to interactive art.

See the review on Neural.it


Interactif, implicite, performatif, éprouvé, le corps exploré
Louise Boisclair (read the whole article, or read the google English translation)

Dans Always More Than One, Erin Manning croise philosophie ou mouvement de pensée, chorégraphie ou mouvement du corps, art et autisme. De son côté, avec Interactive Art and Embodiment : The Implicit Body as Performance, Nathaniel Stern propose de considérer le corps implicite dans sa triple relation de mouvement, sensation et pensée lors de l’appropriation interactive. Quant au collectif, Personnage virtuel et corps performatif. Effets de présence, dirigé par Renée Bourassa et Louise Poissant, quinze artistes et théoriciens explorent, chacun, chacune, sous un angle singulier, diverses facettes du corps performatif et du personnage virtuel. Pour sa part, dans L’instance du regard sur le corps éprouvé. Pathos et contre-pathos, Élène Tremblay examine les notions de pathos et contre-pathos à travers l’insistance du regard sur le corps éprouvé. Chaque auteur-e arrime son analyse à la théorie philosophique, médiatique ou phénoménologique selon l’approche singulière ou multiple qu’ils ou elles adoptent pour cheminer avec le corpus sélectionné.

Interactive Art and Embodiment:  The Implicit Body as Performance (Nathaniel Stern)

Pour sa part, l’ouvrage de l’artiste-enseignant-chercheur Nathaniel Stern constitue une refonte de sa thèse de doctorat qu’il a auparavant résumée dans un article intitulé : « The Implicit Body as Performance: Analyzing Interactive Art. », publié dans le Leonardo Journal of Art, Science and Technology (MIT Press). Vol 44, No 3 (2011): 233-238. Globalement, la thèse est la suivante : au lieu de s’en tenir à la vision, à la structure et à la signification, Stern propose de recentrer l’intérêt sur le « corps en relation ». Il conçoit l’interaction en tant que performance et la manière d’être en tant que manière d’« être avec ». Dans un cadre de travail sur le corps implicite au sein de l’installation interactive, il propose une approche qui réunit quatre volets: la recherche et le processus artistique, la description de l’œuvre d’art, l’interactivité et la relationalité. Selon lui, les deux derniers volets propres à l’expérience interactive doivent faire l’objet d’un examen détaillé.

Cette prescription, Stern la met à l’épreuve dans son ouvrage. Composé de huit chapitres dont le huitième introduit un texte à paraître sur le WEB seulement, il met la table dès la première page :

« When we move and think and feel, we are, of course, a body. This body is constantly changing, in and through its ongoing relationships. This body is a dynamic form, full of potential. It is not “a body,” as thing, but embodiment as incipient activity. Embodiment is a continuously emergent and active relation. It is our materialization and articulation, both as they occur, and about to occur. Embodiment is moving-thinking-feeling, it is the body’s potential to vary, it is the body’s relations to the outside. And embodiment, I contend, is what is staged in the best interactive art. » (Stern, 2013, 2)

Lui-même artiste spécialiste de l’art interactif, sa réflexion philosophique, aussi stimulante que novatrice, est ancrée dans le corps implicite, c’est-à-dire ce corps qui vit et déborde le corps vécu, notion renvoyant au corps pensé. Stern invite la recherche à considérer bien davantage les forces et les champs en puissance dans le corps, alors que la corporéité est en « per-formance », ici-maintenant, au sein de l’installation interactive. L’incorporation s’accompagne donc de la métabolisation d’informations sensorielles issues du milieu d’immersion, sorte de sémiose corporelle pré-signifiante. Elle s’apparente au sens dynamique que lui donne Stern:

« The conception of a continuous embodiment, however, allows us to rethink bodies as formed through how we move in, and relate to, our surroundings. Embodiment, I contend, is not a pre-formed thing, but incipient and per-formed. » (Stern, 2013, 12).

Ainsi, la corporéité, dans sa dynamique, n’est pas une chose pré-formée, mais per-formée, insiste Stern; elle n’est pas constituée, elle se constitue. Continuellement en action, la corporéité évolue de façon dynamique au fil de l’incorporation, elle n’est jamais figée.

Tout au long de cet ouvrage, le lecteur, la lectrice rencontrera de nombreux artistes de l’art interactif et immersif, ce qui a le bénéfice non seulement d’illustrer le propos de Stern, mais bien davantage d’incarner sa réflexion philosophique dans une encyclopédie d’art interactif encore en train d’évoluer. Graduellement, au fil des chapitres, Stern joue avec les thèmes performatifs suivants: 1- « Digital is as Digital does »; 2- « The Implicit Body as Performance »; 3- « A Critical Framework for Interactive Art », 4- « Body-Langage » ; 5- « Social Anatomies »; 6- « Flesh-Space »; 7- « Implicating Art Works » et 8- « In production ». Ce livre d’une grande importance rend compte d’une vision actuelle non seulement artistique, mais « spectatorielle » du corps, assisté ou outillé technologiquement, comme on l’est de plus en plus même dans notre vie quotidienne. Bien plus que le corps performant, c’est toujours et encore le « corps implicite » qui sert de fil rouge pour explorer l’art interactif.

Read the whole article, or read the google English translation

MKE Journal Sentinel

‘Surfacing’ at Lynden Sculpture Garden
This article by Diane Bacha appeared in both the online and print editions of the MJS

MJS_think-inkJessica Meuninck-Ganger and Nathaniel Stern, colleagues at the Peck School of the Arts, took their kids on a trip to the Milwaukee County Zoo one day and came back with an idea for a collaboration. That was three collaborations ago, and they don’t plan to stop.

I can only imagine the conversation that day at the zoo. I am picturing a continuous loop of ideas and theory interrupted by chatter with the kids and pauses to watch the polar bear play. They would have been two families walking at various paces, passing groups moving in other directions, everyone having different conversations about different things while the animals moved in their enclosures. In the background the sky and clouds had their own rhythm. It’s a familiar scene at one glance, but there’s a lot happening on closer inspection. And that’s the way this collaborative work feels: a layering of experiences, moments, ideas, and intersections that teeter between mundane and complex.

Stern is a video and installation artist and Meuninck-Ganger is a printmaker. Although any description of what they do requires asterisks – their work doesn’t exist in silos – their collaboration draws on those specific disciplines, then veers.

“Surfacing” is their latest installation together, and it’s at the Lynden Sculpture Garden until March 24. In it, Stern and Meuninck-Ganger continue their fascinating exercise in layering printmaking and video one atop the other. Each of the six pieces in the small Lynden gallery is a framed, rear-projected video over which has been laid a translucent editioned print or, in one case, a drawing. The viewer sees a static black picture in the foreground and moving, color images in the background. The static image on the skin is taken from a moment or multiple moments occurring in the video beneath.

“Pantograph” uses transportation to convey the idea of layered moments. It’s four minutes in the life of a city intersection where rail, automotive, bicycle and foot traffic converge. The static image is a collection of moments from the traffic – an electric railroad car entering the frame at right, a woman guiding some children at left, a row of automobiles cutting through the middle. As you watch, moving images interact in conflict or harmony with the still image. “Midst” is seemingly less complex: the video depicts a man doing tai-chi exercises on a waterfront, his movements barely visible beneath a woodcut. In this case, a dragon’s form on the static woodcut introduces an element outside the literal. 3-D interpretations of the original woodcut hang on each side of the framed piece. Still more layers.

Other pieces depict a bowling ball striking pins, the Allen-Bradley clock tower, another street scene, and two seated subway-car passengers with their backs to each other. The video loops range in time from 15 seconds to 5 minutes.

Where Stern’s video ends and Meuninck-Ganger’s printmaking begins is fuzzy, since the two have traded off roles depending on the piece. They want to blur the lines between individual contributions and also between the two media. The image applied to the video gives the video a new meaning, and vice-versa. Each is a singular experience – neither video nor print but a distinct hybrid.

Someone viewing this work for the first time might not see it that way. You find yourself fascinated by the technique, so you’re aware of it and you’re trying to figure out its trick – when will the images line up with each other? Is there something I’m supposed to see when it does? Are there other sleights-of-art to watch for? And why was this particular moment chosen as the static image?

Then there is the blending of old media and new and all that’s implied with that. There is the idea of time stopped (perhaps a memory) and time looped (perhaps an obsession). One thinks of the “key block / color block” elements of traditional printmaking. And of the endless possibilities of a particular moment in time, and how few of those possibilities we usually perceive.

What are we to make of these images as a whole? Is it a fable about patience? About being watchful for the beauty in mundane moments? Each piece is different enough in tone, context and even technique that the overall experience doesn’t feel cohesive.

Ultimately, what I found most rewarding with “Surface” was the meditative experience it offered when I let my questions go. It was akin to finding a park bench to watch the world go by. Like most times I’ve spent on a park bench, it takes a while for me to empty my mind and just observe. The rewards come throughout the process, not just at one moment.

Adjacent to the exhibition space, in a porch whose windows overlook the snow-covered sculpture garden, there’s a lovely echo of this experience. The artists have created an installation here by using the windows as a membrane covering the landscape outside. Images drawn on the windows repeat static elements of the landscape in the same way they do on the framed pieces. This time, the movement comes from whatever happens outside randomly, but also from the viewer who changes position to discover visual alignments and misalignments. In a nice interactive touch, the artists have invited visitors to add their own images to the glass.

Meuninck-Ganger and Stern offer up a beautiful opportunity to shift our way of seeing. It is a more conscious way of seeing, to be sure. How often does that happen in the Age of Attention Deficit? The possibilities are exciting.

read the entire article online
see the print edition

MKE Journal Sentinel

Making a Scene: Milwaukee’s Avant-Garde
This article by Mary Louise Schumacher appeared in both the online and print editions of the MJS

A decade ago, Milwaukee’s art scene seemed to be having a moment.

Even the most cynical and pragmatic among us fell under the spell of hopefulness, the notion that Milwaukee, this flyover locale that was nowhere on the art-world map, was becoming an important, artistic frontier, to use artist David Robbins’ term.

Connective tissue began to form between disparate pockets of the art community. Underground, do-it-yourself art projects, galleries, art schools, academics, major institutions and culture makers of all kinds took note of one another and surfaced as one remarkable, indigenous scene.

The catalyst, of course, was the unfurling of Santiago Calatrava’s avant-garde structure on the lakefront, perhaps the single most important artistic gesture in the city’s history. But the period of raucous invention that ensued had little to do with the Milwaukee Art Museum’s new wing.

Milwaukee was becoming a gathering place for artists with a unique and decidedly generous artistic ethic. Cheerfully unorganized, maverick artists found inspiration and an audience first in each other. A playful amateurism prevailed, as artists embraced their obscurity, understanding both the freedoms and limitations that are part of being set apart from the larger art world.

Chicago artist Kirsten Stoltmann said something at that time that would later inspire the title of my column and blog — Art City.

“Milwaukee is one of the most creative art cities now,” she told me. “There is a new kind of ambition here. It’s a different, more honest art…a different ethic.”

That period was captured in a large, group portrait featuring some of the personalities that defined the scene at the time (image, below). I took another look at that Journal Sentinel picture and article recently. As I looked at the faces — some still with us, others long gone — I realized that it was time to consider to what extent that sense of promise has been realized.

As I considered what has — and has not — taken root, I conducted dozens of interviews and studio visits and collected surveys from about 65 people. What I can tell you is that almost no one, myself included, found the question easy to answer.

If we’re honest, we know that the sense of promise of the early 2000s dissipated over time, almost imperceptibly, like a slow leaking tire. And yet, one of the things that defines the art scene today is its connection to that lived history, a trait that larger and more transient art scenes don’t enjoy in the same way.

Some strain of art scene was birthed here a decade ago, and some of the best, new artists in our community are conscious of this and connected to the artists and ideas that defined that time. Our art scene may be small, but one of the things that makes it muscular is the access and proximity between the old and new guards.

I consider it a positive sign that there is less talk of a “moment” and more art of note being made today.

Given this changing picture, it seemed time for a whole new portrait.

So, recently, we gathered some of the artists, curators and thinkers that represent the fulfillment — or potential fulfillment — of what was hoped for 10 years ago. More than that, they represent a portrait of our avant-garde.

Why the avant-garde? It’s a funny term, of course. Ironically, it is antiquated, quaint even.

For a long while, it meant little more than “new” and belonged to an era when art historical beginnings and endings seemed to bump into each other like train cars running down some kind of a linear track. But in an era when art can be — and is — just about anything, a time the art world sometimes calls a “post historical condition,” what does it mean to be avant-garde?

I don’t have a precise definition for you, just a loose list of attributes that I often refine and edit in my mind. It has something to do with qualities related to research and asking good questions. Instead of breakthroughs in cancer research or quantum physics, avant-garde artists explore and reveal something of the human condition. It has to do with intellectual rigor and inventive uses of materials, among other things. And it has something to do with keeping it real, too, with not separating the real world from the art world.

Put most simply, though, it is an important term, worth holding onto, that recognizes that some artists are ahead of others.

The group I selected is not definitive. But these people are certainly ahead of most, are creating an exceptional quality of work and define the current scene. Some were selected because of the strength of their work, others for the strength of their ideas and their influence. And a few are here because of their promise alone.

Before we look at this avant-garde, though, let’s roll the clock back briefly for a glimpse at the essential back story.

In 2001, I described Paul Druecke’s christening of a forlorn patch of concrete, a tidbit of urban space that he dubbed Blue Dress Park, in the lead for that article I wrote a decade ago. The project was then — and remains — a symbol of that time. Not unlike the way artists approached Milwaukee itself, Druecke took a spot that didn’t look like much and radically altered it with an open-air art happening.

Nicholas Frank, too, was an essential figure. He was a principal advocate for creating a vibrant dialogue around contemporary art and helped create an audience for challenging work. He had — and has — a great eye and became a trusted curatorial voice. Though he showed difficult art at his Hermetic Gallery, his space was routinely jammed for art openings and discussions. He also had his hand in a multitude of thoughtful and often participatory projects, such as The Nicholas Frank Public Library.

Robbins was a critical, quiet influence, as well. A conceptual artists with a long history of exhibiting work around the world, Robbins sensed possibility here and made Milwaukee his home. He was a critical link to the wider art universe and the dialogues happening there. In the now defunct New Art Examiner, a magazine that for a while was dedicated to the coverage of art in the Midwest, he wrote about why Milwaukee and other Corn- and Rust Belt cities were experiencing cultural renaissances.

The graduate film program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee was turning out more visually sophisticated and conceptually rigorous artists than the art schools were, it seemed. And UWM was home to what was, to my mind, the most important institution of that period, Inova. While the wider art world was still coming to grips with a more pluralistic reality, Inova curators Marilu Knode and Peter Doroshenko (left) were among the first to truly grasp the implications of globalism on art and create a program that responded to it. They staged some of the most important exhibits of international artists in the nation right here. Though the importance of Inova was not always recognized locally, the impact that this whole new range of art-making practices had on some local artists cannot be underestimated.

Elsewhere, theMilwaukee Artists Resource Network, still an important support organization for artists, was being formed; a group ofMilwaukee Institute of Art & Designstudents and graduates formulated collaborative forms of site-specific curating, staging Rust Spot shows in an abandoned produce building (Image right); Theresa Columbus created a space for performance art called Darling Hall; collectives such as Milhouse created anonymous and even secret art; Riverwest Film & Video, a video shop known as Pumpkin World, became famous for its Sunday night spaghetti dinners, hosted by brothers Xav and Didier Leplae, a salon for the creative set.

In Riverwest, the General Store, Bamboo Theater, Flying Fish Gallery, Jody Monroe Gallery and Hotcakes Gallery opened within walking distance of one another. The art was hit-or-miss but exceptional frequently enough.

Everyone wore multiple art-world hats, perfomance artists were filmmakers, writers were painters, curators were band mates. (Raise your hand if you remember the Singing Flowers and Horn Band bands!).

Beneath the chummy and seemingly casual veneer of much that existed then, there was a seriousness, too.

One of the most daring projects was Jennifer Montgomery’s 2003 film “Threads of Belonging,” which depicted the daily life of an alternative treatment facility for people with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia. The ideas were based on the writings of a famous anti-psychiatry proponent R.D. Laing, but the characters and unscripted scenes became defined by the community of artists and filmmakers who produced and acted the work. The artistic trust and resiliency among the participating artists was breathtaking. Some of the artists and filmmakers who worked on the project include Druecke, Frank, Stephanie Barber, Didier Leplae, Peter BarrickmanCarl BognerDave O’MearaKelly MinkRenato UmaliLori Connerlley and Jennifer Geigel. (See video below, which includes nudity).

I’ll never forget, too, encountering the magical paintings of Laura Owens casually hung in the tiny back gallery at General Store. Owens’ was on her way to becoming a world-class name in the art world, with a solo show of large-scale paintings opening at MAM.

At that particular General Store opening I met two artists for the first time: Andrew Swant and Bobby Ciraldo (right).They told me about their new project, an art-film called “Hamlet A.D.D.” I couldn’t possibly do justice to their description these years later except to say that listening felt like a strange, out-of-body experience. It sounded incongruous, ambitious, impossible — and utterly captivating (more on this in a bit). It was the kind of encounter that became emblematic of that time for me.

The number of artists with considerable success that opted to make Milwaukee home at the time was a visible indicator to the local tribe that something was afoot here, too. Fresh from their success at Sundance with “American Movie,” filmmakers Chris Smith and Sarah Price set up shop, forming Bluemark Productions, a commercial venture that spun out several artistic endeavors such as Zero TV. Artists such as Robbins, Barber, Santiago Cucullu and Scott Reeder, each well known in the art world, found the terrain fertile and opted to remain too.

“There was a moment where I think all of the hard work that all of us were doing really was coming to fruition,” said Frank. “This absurd notion that Milwaukee could have an interesting and vibrant art scene actually happened.”

Perhaps one of the most visible indicators that things had taken a turn was the mounting loss of powerful, female voices. Barber, Columbus, Price, Montgomery and Knode all decamped to pursue new opportunities, as did artist and Rust Spot leader Sara Daleiden and artist Naomi Montgomery. Sisters Kiki and Mali Anderson (right) shut down their Jody Monroe Gallery.

Some artists, reaching and pushing their 40s, some with families, started to peel away, citing among other things a lack of teaching opportunities, one of the primary ways for artists to make a living.

But many artists remained, and a few, as we shall see, have maintained an influence despite their distance. It is telling to see who was included in the portraits from both then and now. Not surprisingly, the artists who were already dug in and focused on making their own work are among those that have continued to make it work in Milwaukee. It’s an indicator of a simple truth — persistence in the studio pays off.

Many of them are mature artists who are making more work than ever and exhibiting locally more than they once did.

Dick Blau (right), who helped shape the influential film program at UWM and who is a leader within the photography community, remains a consistent influence among younger artists. Whenever there is a screening of local films, Blau is thanked as much as anyone I know.

Frank continues to be a critical voice. For a while, he did the impossible and filled the shoes of the team that ran Inova in its heyday. His mission was different, as was the time, but it was a solid attempt at international programming and a knowing homage to the important institution.

Tom Bamberger, an award winning critic, nationally known artist and the former photography curator at MAM, is known locally primarily for a legacy of contemporary exhibitions including the first U.S. show for Andreas Gursky, whose large-scale landscape photographs are among the priciest photographs in the world today. Bamberger has a New York gallery and rarely shows work here, but the immersive, sensuous video installations he has shown very recently are among the most exciting works I’ve seen here in recent years.

Jill Sebastian (left), Xav Leplae and Robbins are pictured again, too, each holding a positive influence, producing more art individually than ever – and visibly showing more work here than they once did.

Fast forward to today. Once again, Druecke’s Blue Dress Park is an apt symbol. Druecke gave up on Milwaukee for a while but was drawn back to the possibilities here a few years ago. His Blue Dress Park was recently revitalized, resurrected with with additional art happenings. This time, his once obscure “park” even found its way onto an official city tour or significant sites.

So, what has changed? What’s different today?

Context is part of it. The relationship that Milwaukee itself has to art is an issue. Few have illusions any longer that the heightened profile of the Milwaukee Art Museum will translate into a larger, more art-literate audiences for local galleries and artists. There was a lot of discussion 10 years ago about the investment in MAM being something that would “lift all boats.”

For 10 years we’ve seen travel stories appear in publications around the world, celebrating MAM and predictably declaring Milwaukee no longer a beer-and-brats city. We are an art city, they say. Milwaukeeans have embraced this idea – but not the art. It is too bad that local audiences haven’t more fully embraced the art outside of MAM.

In truth, the case for art is as hard to make as it’s ever been in my time here. This has played out in various public art-related debates over the years. There’s no evidence that the base of collectors and general support for local artists and galleries has changed much.

The Mary L. Nohl Fellowships, which awards $65,000 to seven individual artists each year, is critical support for artists. The jurying process gives local artists an audience with curators outside the region. Many artists mentioned in this article and featured in the portrait have won a Nohl fellowship. Still, unto itself it is limited.

It seems especially important, in fact, to showcase those who are serious about art at a time when the political climate is increasingly hostile to the arts and funding is being slashed. Even civic leaders keen on supporting the arts, who work to promote the “creative industries” as an economic driver, often seem more interested in art marketing than art making and remarkably disconnected from the people I’ve highlighted here.

This has, of course, been hugely disappointing to some artists and gallery owners, and not much of a surprise to others. But most accept the limited degree of interest as part of the dynamic, as a constraint that has to be worked around. Some have even made this particular challenge part of their art-making practice and business plans.

A good example of this kind of pragmatic entrepreneurialism isAmerican Fantasy Classics, a four-person collective made up of Alec ReaganBrittany EllenzOliver Sweet and Liza Pfloghoft (right). The group are skilled fabricators, which is essentially how they make a living. But they have turned the role of artist assistant and fabricator on its ear, too, blurring the lines of authorship in interesting ways. They approach established artists with proposals for how to give their conceptual aims new forms, working with two-dimensional artists on sculptures, for instance.

Recently, they worked with another four-person collective, the conceptual performance group The White Box Painters, which was part of the first boom and includes Brent BudsbergShana McCawHarvey Opgenorth and Mark Escribano. The latter two members of the White Box Painters are active artists in Los Angeles today.

The four AFC artists effectively took over the WBP roles and staged performances and installations. They painted a massive white box onto a parking lot, for instance, an alternative to the traditional gallery space, the pristine “white box.” For a time, when you went to the American Fantasy Classics space in Riverwest the door opened to what seemed a shallow storage closet with WBP coveralls and WBP gear tucked neatly inside. It was a poignant homage to a group that has had to hang it up much of the time because of their physical separation.

That project could also be considered a form of criticism, of the younger group pointing to an important passage of regional art history as important and worthy of continuation. These AFC projects widen the nascent group’s exposure and network of art-world contacts, incidentally, which has the practical effect of leading to more work, as well.

This kind of entrepreneurialism is also a defining quality for Plaid Tuba, the brainchild of artists Reginald Baylorand Heidi Witz. Plaid Tuba makes an end run around Milwaukee’s limited gallery system by creating partnerships between artists and commercial interests. Plaid Tuba has been given essential support by developerBarry Mandel and his Mandel Group, an exception to the rule regarding support for art. Plaid Tuba has effectively created a residency program and provides local businesses with ready access to artists for various projects. Currently, the Plaid Tuba artists includeAmanda GerkenMelissa Dorn RichardsPamela Anderson and Baylor.

Robbins, who spent about a year in Andy Warhol’s Factory as a young artist, who initially made a name for himself in the 1980s with conceptual works about the art machine, has for many years been interested in finding highly entertaining, accessible ways of connecting with an otherwise disinterested mainstream audience. In recent years, he’s worked with Swant and Ciraldo to slip art into the living rooms of Milwaukee’s bleary-eyed, middle-of-the-night, reach-for-the-remote set. The trio created an experimental TV show called “Something Theater” that has aired in late-night slots between infomercials and “Scrubs” reruns. Robbins also creates TV ads for local art exhibits, such as the Warhol show at the Milwaukee Art Museum, too.

“Something Theater” is also one of the few places to catch snippets of Swant and Ciraldo’s previously mentioned andstill-in-progress “Hamlet A.D.D.” Some, myself included, wonder if this tale of an easily distracted Hamlet, shot entirely in green screen and with a B-movie aesthetic, will ever reach completion or is intended to. But the build up alone explores issues of Internet-based fame, it tackles the subject of entertainment while being, by the way, wildly entertaining. It also features a who’s who of Milwaukee’s film and art communities.

Other organizations that creatively tackle issues related to audience include In:Site and the Parachute Project.In:Site, an organization founded by Pegi Christiansen and Amy Mangrich that advocates for temporary public art, is certainly one of the more avant-garde efforts.

While the group’s installations are still experimental and imperfect, it has made our urban geography itself a platform for critical dialogue and put art in front of a wider, more general audience. It experiments with unique forms of community participation that are promising. It has injected locality back into public art here, a community where public art tends to be conventional and general. In:Site has changed the conversation about public art more than any other entity, artist or organization.

Similarly, the newer Parachute Project, formed by Ella DwyerMakael Flammini and Jes Myszka, draws attention to forlorn areas and architecture with conceptually focused art installations. Their most recent project, at the Grand Avenue Mall, was a collaboration between German artist Kati Heck and Milwaukee artistColin Matthes.

Debra Brehmer, a longstanding figure and critic, represents this entrepreneurial spirit in the gallery scene. For herPortrait Society Gallery, she has developed an exhibition structure that draws in both meaningful participation and funding or commissions that make the shows financially feasible. The Real Photo Postcard Survey Project (left), featuring the works of Julie Lindemann and John Shimon, was a good example of this. It would be so easy for this sort of approach to take its toll on the quality of exhibitions, but Brehmer continues to run one of the strongest galleries in town. She is, in fact, opening a greatly expanded space in the Third Ward’s Marshall Building in March.

Some will be surprised and critical, to be sure, to see former gallery owner Mike Brenner on my list. But he too represents this do-it-yourself spirit. As an arts agitator famous for shuttering his gallery in protest of the Bronze Fonz and shaving his head in solidarity with then detained Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, he has consistently challenged Milwaukee with one very good question: What would happen if the community supported the best art made here? He has spent tens of thousands of dollars and the last several years of his life getting his MBA and a brewmaster’s license in order to offer an answer of his own. Art will be integrated into the business he hopes to start.

Another issue that’s considered a constant in Milwaukee’s art scene is a lack of diversity. Ten years ago, the portrait we took was of a group of white people, and while the current group features a few people of color, Milwaukee’s art scene remains challenged when it comes to issues of race.

Della Wells (right), an African American artist who has experienced significant success outside of Milwaukee, said there are very few, young emerging artists of color attracted to Milwaukee. The Peltz Gallery, run by Cissie Peltz, is perhaps the only gallery that routinely exhibits local artists of color. But, Wells points out, an increasing number of black and minority artists are building audiences and a base of collectors in other cities by leveraging technology and the Internet.

“As an African American artist, the real story is how some artist have become much more savvy,” Wells said.

Wells, one of the nation’s foremost contemporary folk artist, has herself had several important local exhibits in recent years, including a major survey at the Charles Allis Art Museum. Her colorful collages, drawings, dolls, assemblages and quilts – forms of deeply personal storytelling – were recently the inspiration for a theater production with First Stage Children’s Theater that dealt with issues of race and mental illness.

The fact that Milwaukee’s art scene remains challenged by issues related to diversity surfaced last year in a particular way as a result of a collaboration between the Chipstone Foundation, one of the most progressive arts institutions in Milwaukee, and artist Theaster Gates, an urban planner, performance artist and fierce advocate of black identity. To its great credit, Chipstone gave Gates a platform and total freedom to create art that was effectively a critique of MAM and the city on issues of race. The initial inability to recruit singers from local, African American churches for the project made it clear that there is some longer-term relationship building to do. (See resulting performances, which also included choir members from Chicago-area churches, below).

David Gordon, the former director of the Milwaukee Art Museum, said in an interview that one of his great regrets was not addressing issues of race and poverty more directly during his tenure. In addition to drawing diverse audience to the museum, he said, the museum should find ways to be physically present in underserved neighborhoods.

How else does the current period of inventiveness differ from the last one? The kind of lithe and nimble experimentation we saw then exists now, too. One of the greatest contributions that the first group offered to the current one may be a framework and a sense of permission to create their own community-driven projects.

On the whole, though, the art scene, once very performative and ebullient, seems closer to the ground, less personality driven and increasingly socially conscious.

This groundedness exists even among a spate of independent spaces opened by younger artists. While these kinds of venues come and go perennially, a critical number of them that have opened in the last year or two. Some believe this marks a renewal.

Spaces such as American Fantasy Classics, Small Space,Nabr, Jackpot Gallery, Pink House and Center, among others, represent a would-be avant-garde. An astonishing number of the artists associated with these venues point to the first art boom as a direct influence.

“There was this group of people who had this incredible relationship and ideas that just fit together,” said Sarah Luther, an emerging artist who opened an experimental art-community center of her own earlier this year. Luther has a studio in a Riverwest building that once was and is again crammed with artists and galleries.

“There is a younger group that idolizes that…It’s what drew me back to Milwaukee,” said Luther, who went to art school in Kansas City.

Much of this micro scene can also be traced to a corresponding and recent revival at MIAD, where some of these younger artists have studied and where some of the established artists critical to the discussion about art here in the last several have been hired to teach in recent years. The established clutch includes, among others, Frank, Barrickman, Budsberg, McCaw and Cucullu (left), as well as Kevin Miyazaki.

“They seem like they are up and running even while they are undergrads: running small spaces in Riverwest; showing their work; attending openings and events…really being a present and vital force,” wrote Portrait Society Gallery owner Brehmer in her survey response, referring to the influence of students from both MIAD and UWM. “This definitely energizes the entire scene.”

It can be an insular scene, to be sure. Exhibits tend to be one-night affairs that come together last minute. Invitations are usually sent via Facebook or made word of mouth. It’s unfortunate that some of these spaces don’t lay the groundwork for engaging a wider audience, testing their curatorial chops against audiences with more than a few degrees of separation, since many of them, influenced by the ideas of mentors such as Robbins and Frank, have a mind to present challenging but accessible art. At the same time, this scene within a scene is large enough to support a critical dialogue unto itself, too.

It’s a pretty big group, in truth. Had we invited all of them to be part of the portrait, we would have doubled the size of the crowd. So we made due with a representative few, Reagan and Ellenz.

A strata of the local photography community is also worth noting as a grounded and visually astute clique. A tight-knit but permeable group of photographers manage to engage in rich but informal dialogues about art on a regular basis. I sometimes wonder if this group has taken the place that the UWM film community once held in terms of generating artists of conceptual rigor. Some of these artists include Miyazaki, Jessica K. KaminskiSonja ThomsenJon Horvath and Mark Brautigam, among others. The influence that MAM’s photography curator Lisa Hostetler holds by exhibiting some of the strongest contemporary art at MAM cannot be underestimated. She has created a platform for a sustained dialogue.

It warrants noting here, too, that Russell Bowman, the director of the Milwaukee Art Museum was included in the portrait 10 years ago. Dan Keegan and Brady Roberts, the director and chief curator at MAM today, were not invited to be included in the current one. This is in large part because of the increasing nonchalance of MAM toward the local art community.

Another major change that we see today are the number of connections that exist between the wider art world and Milwaukee artists and galleries.

Filmmaker and artist Faythe Levine has for years brought an international spectrum of cutting-edge craft to Milwaukee through her spaces and projects, including the gallery she runs today Sky High Gallery. She travels around the world to screen her film “Handmade Nation” and to talk about the global rise of the do-it-yourself crafting movement in recent years.

The newly energized Lynden Sculpture Garden has not only infused contemporary art into the sculpture garden of Milwaukee’s most important collector, the late Peg Bradley, it has also forged connections elsewhere and already begun exhibiting national and international artists. Polly Morris, executive director, is guiding the program there.

Fine Line, a curated, international art magazine devoid of advertising and reviews, founded by Jessica Steeber and Cassandra Smith, creates a new model for exporting emerging artists.

Daleiden, who lives in LA but returns to Milwaukee frequently, has been working in recent years to import Milwaukee ideas to Los Angeles. Last year, she organized “MKE-LAX” to bring Rust Spot’s site-specific curatorial ideas west. That show was on view at Woodbury Hollywood Exhibitions.

Next month, another exhibit featuring Milwaukee artists will open in Los Angeles. Organized around the ideas of UWM contemporary art historian Jennifer Johung and her upcoming book “Replacing Home” (left, from University of Minnesota Press, Dec. 2011) the exhibit at JAUS will featured the works of Yevgeniya KaganovichNathaniel Stern and Kaminiski.

While there seems to be some consensus that MIAD is infusing the local scene with more energy than UWM’s art program, which always seems laden with bureaucratic messiness, the Peck School of the Arts has plenty of bright spots, and Johung, Stern and Kaganovich are among the brightest.

Stern, who is an occasional contributor to this blog, combines new and traditional media in a way that creates unexpected experiences. He, for instance, sometimes straps a desktop scanner, laptop and battery pack to his body and performs, creating dynamic, impressionistic images that are part multimedia, part theater. He is also one of the most knowledgeable experts on interactive art you’ll find anywhere.

As for Johung, the mere existence of an accomplished contemporary art historian is reason enough to celebrate, as many art history programs don’t value the contemporary as a discipline. It’s not really history yet, some argue, to oversimplify a bit. Johung’s research explores how people locate themselves in the world today and our changing notions of home. She has become a performer of her ideas and has engaged with artists in a way that is unusual for a historian.

It is telling that there is no home for these latter two LA exhibitions here in Milwaukee. One of the great shortcomings of Milwaukee’s art scene today is that it lacks a major contemporary art institution. It doesn’t help that the Milwaukee Art Museum has turned its back on more than a century of an emphasis on the art of the contemporary moment (as I explored in a recent article), and nothing has ever quite replaced Inova, the fate of which is up in the air. Other institutions are conscious of this and attempting to fill the gap. The Haggerty Museum of Art at Marquette, under the guidance of director Wally Mason, has upped its game in terms of contemporary art considerably, as have the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts and Charles Allis art museums under the curatorial leadership of Martha Monroe. Despite their subpar physical space, MIAD too has improved its contemporary exhibition program of late. The “Generation Next” exhibit recently curated by Jason Yi being perhaps the best example.

We have some fantastic galleries here, of course. The Tory Folliard Gallery, known especially for showing accomplished painters, has increasingly been gravitating toward conceptual artists, featuring James Franklinand Barrickman recently. Beth Lipman, one of the best conceptual craft artists in the nation, currently has work on view there as well. The Dean Jensen Gallery is the leading gallery for idea-driven work, but we could use about four or five additional spaces of that caliber (Dean Jensen was invited to be part of the avant-garde portrait, incidentally).

Madison is increasingly becoming an art center, of course. The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art and the Chazen Museum have both expanded into new structures with exquisite new galleries for contemporary work. MMoCA’s triennial has become an important showcase for Wisconsin artists, a show where we encounter artists we may not see otherwise.

Still, Milwaukee has more artists actively exhibiting nationally and internationally than ever before, many of whom are unable to find a suitable venues to exhibit their work locally. The loss of the Michael Lord Gallery about a decade ago, which shuttered amid claims of financial mismanagement and lawsuits, meant that artists such as Bamberger and Steven D. Foster had fewer options for routine exhibitions in their own town. It is interesting to consider that the only reason we’ve seen Bamberger’s work of late is because of a unique collaboration forged with Deb Loewen and the Wild Space Dance Company.

Oddly enough, what comes closest to replacing the spirit of Inova may be the Green Gallery. It is hard to believe that John Riepenhoff and Jake Palmert opened their Green Gallery East only three years ago, as its become such an essential space.

Riepenhoff and Palmert don’t flip the art-looking switch on only when in a gallery or museum. They see art anywhere, anytime and in the most populist of platforms. From the start, they have found ways to create meaningful and unorthodox experiences out of those discoveries, exhibits that also question the canon of contemporary art enthusiastically.

In a grubby building crammed with artist’s studios in Riverwest, they run the Green Gallery West. It is a project space, of sorts, for less-known artists, informal art experiments and film screenings, among other things.

The main gallery on the East Side presents conceptual artists, many of whom operate outside the commercial art world. At first glance, the space is more formal, more old-school, with white walls and a high-profile location. But it is also a petite, Atomic Age drive-through, a welcoming building with giant plate glass windows that makes the art visible from the street.

“I want to bring artists from around the world to Milwaukee, and vice versa,” Riepenhoff told me three years ago. “But I want to do it at street level with a take-away feel.”

Fittingly, David Robbins, who hadn’t shown work locally very much, was the first artist exhibited by the Green Gallery East. Local and regional artists such as Barrickman, Cucullu, Druecke, Frank, Scott Reeder and Michelle Grabner, as well as a multitude of international artists, have also shown work.

Last winter, New York-based artist Jose Lerma curated “A Person of Color: A Mostly Orange Exhibition” at the Green Gallery. It was a show of all orange sculptures and paintings, most hung below waist level, where we had to look down at them or crouch to see them properly. The floor itself was painted with a crisscrossing orange pattern, leaving us to walk on the art from the moment we walked into the show.

At that time, the Tory Folliard Gallery, perhaps the most established gallery for contemporary painting in the city, also had a warm color-themed exhibit on view. Hey, it was January. A month when Milwaukeeans could use a fiery blast. At the Folliard Gallery, the show was equally random, a conceit employed to bring together some of the gallery’s better artists. The show was filled with beautifully executed works and was a nice cross section of the artists the gallery works with. A perfectly fine show.

What Lerma did at the Green Gallery, though, was challenge these kinds of curatorial approaches. In many ways it was a show about who rules – the artist or curator. Who was the artist here, those who made the individual works or the artists who pulled them together in this bizarre installation?

The Tory Folliard show was about the display and sale of art, while the Green Gallery show was about challenging ideas.

Last summer, I visited the Green Gallery’s pop-up gallery at Canal 47 in New York’s Chinatown. They took over the gallery during August, when many in the art world flee the city. They were presenting an exhibit of a little known artist curated by Xav Leplae, who was blindfolded when he hung the show. Leplae also, incidentally, hopped freight trains to get to New York, trying to keep his carbon footprint as close to zero as possible. The low-key generosity of the project, the way that artists and gallery owners reliquished their authorial voices to one another (and to random chance) was interesting to me.

It was, in fact, very in keeping with what has proved to be a longstanding collaborative and experimental ethic in Milwaukee. Considerably more common in the art world today, I’d trace this approach back to a term coined by Robbins in the `90s: Platformist.

“There has never been a better time to be an artist in Milwaukee than now,” said Riepenhoff, who is an important crossover figure, someone who got a start during the first boom, who started the first Green Gallery in his Riverwest attic, and who epitomizes the current boom. “We have more critically active venues than I’ve seen before.”

The Green Gallery is probably the most nationally and internationally active gallery in Milwaukee today and the venue most often mentioned as critical to the local avant-garde in the surveys I received. But, again, it’d be nice to have a few more Green Galleries to spare. Like any venue, it is limited, too. It is has a particular focus and exhibits within a certain strata of the art world, and its space is small and not suited to certain types of multimedia work, for instance.

One of the dangers of having a vibrant but small scene is that it can become dependent upon certain people and places. If the Green Gallery were to close, it would be like putting a pin in things.

Riepenhoff, along with Frank, Scott Reeder, Tyson Reeder and Elysia Borowy-Reeder, also organized the Milwaukee International, a homey alternative to the larger art world’s overly commercial art fairs, with polka and bowling to boot. The fairs, the first in 2006, the second in 2008, brought galleries from across the country and around the globe to the basement of the Falcon Bowl in Riverwest, an event that attracted international press.

“Milwaukee” and “international” sounded funny together at first, the organizers told me at the time – until they decided to take it seriously.

When I attended one of those swanky fairs at about this time last year, Art Basel Miami, and introduced myself as I do as a critic from Milwaukee. The reaction from galleries from around the world was revealing. Maybe one in 20, registered a look of recognition. Ah yes, they’d say, and utter a few proper nouns. Calatrava was one of them, sure. But “Green Gallery,” “Inova” and “Milwaukee International” tripped off the tongues of art-world figures often enough, too.

This seems evidence, to me, that there is a small, dedicated and fragile avant-garde here. Milwaukee has been recognized as a place where something special has been happening.

A few questions remain now. What would it take to better sustain — and grow — Milwaukee’s avant-garde? What can the community do during the next decade to retain Milwaukee’s most interesting artists and to keep this fragile and unique ecosystem thriving? And what person or institution might step forward to be sure a dialogue is had?

Special note about the Photographers: While being interviewed for this story, local artist and photographer Kevin J. Miyazaki offered to shoot the portrait of Milwaukee’s avant-garde. He ended up creating the large, group photograph, individual portraits and a cover montage the print version. Had he not been behind the camera, Miyazaki, as well as photographer Jessica Kaminski, who assisted with the project, would have been in front of it, had it been up to me. Kevin is currently working on a series of portraits of Wisconsinites. He is a former winner of the Mary L. Nohl Fellowship and has created several bodies of work in recent years, particularly shooting the fate of buildings once used in Japanese internment camps. Kaminski is preparing to exhibit a dress made of from Jennifer Johung’s book, printed on tissue and intended to be worn by Johung. For more information on these artists:www.kevinmiyazaki.com and www.jessicakaminski.com.

Special note about the 2011 portrait location: The location of the recent portrait, taken by Kevin J. Miyazaki, was the historic Pritzlaff Building. We owe a special thanks to Ken Bruenig of Sunset Investors, owners of the building, who not only allowed us to use the site but helped us find a spot in the historic complex for the photograph and helped us move large objects to make it happen. I would also like to thank Diane Bacha and Lonnie Turner, Art City contributors, for assisting with the project on the day of the shoot.

Images from top:
1. Nicholas Frank and Tyson Reeder, 2002, at the opening of the General Store. From Journal Sentinel archives.

2. Group portrait taken April 10, 2001 by Journal Sentinel photographer Jack Orton. Chris Smith, director of “American Movie.” (Second row, first person on the left); Gabe Lanza, organizer of Rust Spot art shows (First row, first person on the left); Jeremy Wolf, artist (Second row, second person from the left);Peter Barrickman, artist, musician and set designer (Third row, first person on the left); Sonia Kubica, MARN organizer (Left ladder, first person on the left); Scott Reeder, artist, currently works for Zero TV (Left ladder, top of the ladder); Eric Archer, artist, organizer of Factory Soiree (Front row, second person from the left); Naomi Montgomery, artist, organizer of Factory Soiree (Second row, third from left, wearing a black hat); Paul Druecke, artist, founder of Art Street Window (Third row, second from left); Theresa Columbus, artist, playwright, owner of Darling Hall (Third row, third person from left); Sarah Price, “American Movie” filmmaker, drummer in band Competitorr (Left ladder, first person on the right);Stephanie Barber, artist, filmmaker, musician, owner of Bamboo Theater (Front row, center); Didier Leplae, artist, owner Riverwest Video and Film, bassist for The Paragraphs (Second row, center); David Robbins, artist best known for work called “Talent” (Third row, fourt person from left); Nicholas Frank, artist, writer and owner of Hermetic Gallery (On stairs, first person on the left); Tom Bamberger, artist-photographer, writer and a MAM curator (Front row, third person from the right); Marilu Knode, arts writer, inova curator (Second row, fourth person from the right); Bill Budelman, collage artist, risingartist.com (On stairs, third person from the right); Russell Bowman, Milwaukee Art Museum director (On stairs, second person from the right); Dick Blau, head of UWM film department (Second row, third person from the right); Peter Doroshenko, inova director (Front row, second from right); Jennifer Montgomery, writer, artist and filmmaker, and Mila the dog. (Front row, first person on the right); Xav Leplae, owner Riverwest Video and Film (Second row, second from right); Jill Sebastian, sculptor and MIAD teacher (On stairs, first person on the right); Doug Holst, abstract painter and MAM night guard (Second row, first person on the right (seated on ladder).

3. Portrait of Milwaukee’s Avant-Garde, taken by artist-photographer Kevin J. Miyazaki, with help fromJessica Kaminski, 2011. From left to right: Nicholas Frank, artist, curator, early advocate of dialogue about art in Milwaukee and instructor at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design; Jennifer Johung, contemporary art historian and writer at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee; Roy Staab, internationally recognized ecological artist; Dick Blau, helped create the influential film program at UWM; Della Wells, nationally recognized collage artist; Santiago Cucullu, internationally exhibited artist and influential instructor at MIAD; Wally Mason, director of the Haggerty Museum of Art; Heidi Witz, a founder of the entrepreneurial minded Plaid Tuba; Cassandra Smith, artist and co-founder of Fine Line; Andrew Swant, nationally known artist and experimental filmmaker; Reginald Baylor, painter and founder of Plaid Tuba; Brent Budsberg and Shana McCaw, artists and founding member of the White Box Painters performance group; Faythe Levine, filmmaker and internationally known expert on cutting-edge craft; Jill Sebastian, sculptor, public artist and instructor at MIAD; Jessica Steeber, artist and co-founder of Fine Line; Ashley Morgan, installation artist; Pegi Christiansen, co-founder of In:Site and the Performance Art Showcase; Mark Brautigam, photographer; Lisa Hostetler, curator of photography at the Milwaukee Art Museum; Nathaniel Stern, internationally exhibited interactive artist; Xav LePlae, filmmaker and artist; David Robbins, internationally known writer and artist; Mike Brenner, artist-agitator; Bobby Ciraldo, nationally known artist and experimental filmmaker; Polly Morris, director of the Lynden Sculpture Garden, an important new site for contemporary programming; Paul Druecke, an artist who engages the public and strangers in his ongoing practice; Claudia Mooney, curator with Chipstone Foundation; Greg Klassen, painter; Sonja Thomsen, conceptual photographer; Yevgenia Kaganovich, an artist with a hybrid practice that includes jewelry making, sculpture and installation; Tom Bamberger, former museum curator, award-winning critic and nationally recognized artist; Jason Yi, artist, curator and increasingly influential figure at MIAD; Deb Brehmer, owner of the Portrait Society Gallery; Alec Reagan and Brittany Ellenz, of American Fantasy Classics; John Riepenhoff and Jake Palmert, owners of the internationally connected Green Gallery.

4. Portrait of Paul Druecke, by Kevin J. Miyazaki, 2011.

5. Inova’s former senior curator Marilu Knode and director Peter Doroshenko play a fictitious game by Uri Tzaig, 1999, from Journal Sentinel archives.

6. Artist Harvey Opgenorth with 2002 Rust Spot installation, from Journal Sentinel archives.

7. Excerpt of Jennifer Montgomery’s “Threads of Belonging.”

8. Andrew Swant and Bobby Ciraldo, from Journal Sentinel archives.

9. Kiki and Mali Anderson, sisters and former owners of the Jody Monroe Gallery, from Journal Sentinel archives.

10. Portrait of Dick Blau, by Kevin J. Miyazaki, 2011.

11. Portrait of Jill Sebastian, by Kevin J. Miyazaki, 2011.

12. Portrait of American Fantasy Classics, courtesy the artists and the Bradley Family Foundation.

13. Still, from “Something Theater,” courtesy David Robbins.

14. Portrait of Pegi Christiansen, by Kevin J. Miyazaki, 2011.

15. Image of Clair Chin and her two daughters, by Julie Lindemann and John Shimon, courtesy the artists and the Portrait Society Gallery.

16. Video of collaborative Theaster Gates performance at the Milwaukee Art Museum, 2010.

17. Portrait of Santiago Cucullu, by Kevin J. Miyazaki, 2011.

18. Part of the Re:Current series of photographic art by Sonja Thomsen.

19. Cover of “Replacing Home,” due out from the University of Minnesota Press, Dec. 26, 2011.

20. Portrait of John Riepenhoff and Jake Palmert, owners of the Green Gallery, by Kevin J. Miyazaki, 2011.

21. John Riepenhoff, Nicholas Frank and Tyson Reeder, 2006, before the first “Milwaukee International.”

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Stern, Nathaniel. ‘The Implicit Body as Performance: Analyzing Interactive Art.’ Leonardo Journal of Art, Science and Technology (MIT Press) Vol 44, No 3 (2011): 233-238. Print.

ABSTRACT: This paper puts contemporary theories of embodiment and performance in the service of interactive arts criticism. Rather than focusing on vision, structure or signification, the author proposes that we explicitly examine bodies-in-relation, interaction as performance, and “being” as “being-with.” He presents four concrete areas of concentration for analyzing the category of interactive art. The author also examines how such work amplifies subjects and objects as always already implicated across one another.

Download full PDF of this article (400KB).


Download full PDF of this article (400KB).